DECATUR — Jasmine Confer didn't know what she was volunteering for when Detective Jameka Sherrod asked for a volunteer at the Macon/Piatt Student Summit on Friday at The Salvation Army.
The Chicago police department detective told the rest of the students and adults in the room what officers need to know when someone reports a crime: what the person looks like, including hair color, what they're wearing, and anything and everything that might help them spot the person.
Then Sherrod sent Confer out of the room and asked the attendees to write a description of her that was as complete as they could make it. Most weren't able to provide much in the way of detail. A few remembered she was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt. Some mentioned her distinctive sneakers. Det. Sherrod said it's critical to memorize and report as many details as possible.
The Macon/Piatt Student Summit was organized by Jill Reedy, assistant regional superintendent of schools with the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education, Sherrod's Independent Mentoring Program Inc. and the chiefs of police and sheriffs of Macon and Piatt counties.
“This is our first Macon-Piatt Youth Summit with law enforcement,” Reedy said. “We have drawn five students from each of our school districts in Macon and Piatt counties. We're really excited about that. We have all the chiefs of police here from all of our local law enforcement agencies, and we've brought this group together because we often don't hear the perspective of our youth. I think it's really important because they're the future of our community and their voice is important. And we want to work really hard today. Our goal is to build positive relationships between youth and law enforcement.”
The chiefs of police were seated at tables with students from their own communities, she said, and the agenda included guest speakers, like Detective Sherrod, as well as more informal discussion among the students and law enforcement officers about possible scenarios, making wise decisions, addressing violence prevention in schools and being “restorative leaders” in their community.
Jasmine Confer is a junior at Eisenhower High School and has been the victim of abuse, she said, which made her want to be a voice and a resource for other young people.
“I want to do something with my community for law enforcement,” she said. “I feel like, as a kid, I want to help people. I want to help other people who have been abused to get out of situations. It brings you down when you have no one to help you.”
Chief Shane Brandel of the Decatur Police Department said he wanted to help build bridges between law enforcement and youth.
“We're talking about violence prevention, and violence is a broader issue than just shootings and stuff like that,” Brandel said. “You're talking about domestic violence, bullying, teen dating, getting in fights at school, so the whole thing about us just talking to the youth about options outside of turning to violence that they have available to them, to resolve their conflicts without resorting to violence, that's the whole purpose. It helps their lives, it helps their school, it helps their community and it gives the life skills in terms of conflict resolution.”
There's often a disconnect between youth and law enforcement, he said, that is largely a matter of not understanding each other.
“Most adults look at youth and go, 'What's wrong with our kids?'” he said. “Every generation does that. And the truth is, there's nothing wrong with our kids. We're just not connected. There's just that generational gap. The music is different, the style is different and every generation goes through that.”
Jarmese Sherrod, who is the elder sister of Jameka Sherrod, asked her sister to come because while Chicago is obviously a bigger city with bigger problems than Decatur, the basic issues are the same. The hope, Sherrod said, is that the students will go back to their schools and influence their peers.
“We're talking about community connections and a sustainable solutions,” she said. “We want the students to be aware of things but also more than anything, we want to build a positive relationship between law enforcement and students.”
In order to solve the problem of violence, she said, every stakeholder needs to be at the table.
“In (Detective Sherrod's) career, she wants to make sure she never sees any of these kids in a situation that could cause them harm,” Dr. Sherrod said. “With that being said, this is the best time to do this, because we hope these kids will hear this and take it back to their schools, to hopefully put something in every school that is dealing with violence prevention.”
PHOTOS: Jarmese Sherrod invests acts of service in Decatur
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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter